By Tim Pallesen
The Caron Foundation can’t sue Delray Beach for denying a Seaspray Avenue sober house because the request hasn’t been officially denied, an attorney for the city argued in court.
The surprising twist came during an April 16 federal court hearing where the city also argued that Caron can’t claim a loss of income because it hasn’t placed recovering alcoholics and drug addicts into a second house where the city has given approval to operate.
Federal Judge William Dimitrouleas promised to rule on Caron’s request for a preliminary injunction “as soon as I can” after the hearing in Fort Lauderdale.
Caron claims the City Commission violated federal laws on Feb. 21 when it approved three ordinances to make it more difficult for treatment providers to operate and on Feb. 22 when Caron says the city refused its request to open a sober house at 1232 Seaspray Ave.
“We contend that the city had no reason to deny us other than the hostile and organized community reaction to our attempt to locate in an affluent area near the ocean,” Caron attorney James Green told the judge.
Green claimed public comments by Mayor Woodie McDuffie and Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Cary Glickstein show the city is intentionally discriminating against recovering alcoholics and addicts.
“We are willing to do all in our power to control the proliferation of these homes,” McDuffie said in a Feb. 1 email that Green gave the judge.
Glickstein strongly urged commissioners to oppose sober houses before their Feb. 21 vote. “It is a cancer in this town,” he said.
But Matthew Mandel, an attorney representing the city, countered that Delray Beach is only trying to regulate transient housing. “The ordinance is not discriminatory because it applies to all single-family dwellings,” he argued.
Mandel said the city is waiting for Caron to provide medical justification for its request to house seven clients at the Seaspray address. “They haven’t gotten a final decision from us,” he told the judge.
Caron wants the city to pay $55,000 per client in monthly damages because it can’t open the Seaspray house.
But Mandel countered that Caron has another house at 740 N. Ocean Blvd. to place its clients. “They have to explain how they’ve had that house available for a year and not put one person in there,” he said.
Dimitrouleas questioned the $55,000 monthly cost for treatment. “What if you can never get seven people who can afford to pay?” he asked.
Green said Caron has “more than enough” wealthy clients.
The judge encouraged the two sides to discuss a settlement, suggesting a compromise that would allow five rather than seven clients in the house.
“It wouldn’t crush me if you all got together and came up with some reasonable settlement,” Dimitrouleas said.
But such a settlement appears unlikely.
The nonprofit treatment provider didn’t get a response when it wrote city officials on April 2 offering three incentives if Delray Beach would allow it to place seven clients at the Seaspray house.
The nonprofit Caron offered to pay property taxes on both its houses for five years, waive its claim for damages and attorney fees, and pay for classes on prevention of bullying, alcohol and drug abuse in six Delray Beach schools.
Green also asked Mandel to discuss a settlement after Monday’s hearing, but the city’s attorney declined.
If Dimitrouleas doesn’t grant a preliminary injunction, Green said, Caron will either appeal that decision or prepare to argue for a permanent in-junction at a future hearing.